Order and disorder

The first time I saw a Twenty-eight, an Australian ring neck parrot, I asked Roland to stop the car. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, by the side of the highway this brilliant emerald green bird pecking at grass seeds. Of course I had seen brightly coloured birds before but nothing like this. The Latin name is Barnadius zonarius. The bird is quite large. When I have found corpses of these birds, victims of road-kill, I’ve been surprised at how big they are.

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This morning I was listening to the plaintive call these beautiful birds make. I’ve heard from someone who knows, that it isn’t really “twenty-eight, twenty-eight” but rather “vingt-huit, vingt-huit”. There are a few families of Twenty-eights in our area and they are widespread throughout Western Australia. I’ve heard that when it is about to rain the birds hang upside down on the power lines and washing lines and call, “vingt-huit, vingt-huit”. I have seen them hanging upside down on my washing line but not associated this with rain.

Now I’ve got that out of the way I’ll get on with what I was planning on writing about, which is the state of disorder in my writing practice. I have a number of notebooks, journals, and other places where I write. Most of what I write begins life written in cursive in one of these notebooks. I fully intend to have some form of order: reflections in this notebook; travel notes in my Moleskine; poetry here, fiction there … and so it goes. Go it certainly does because invariably whichever notebook I pick up is the one in which I will write. I prefer unlined because lines limit me. I prefer to write with a 2B (or softer) pencil because the feel of the graphite running smoothly over the paper gives me a frisson of joy.

Blogging is the only place I am interested in publishing my writing these days. Does this make me a dilettante? A dabbler? If it does, do I care? No.

 

 

 

 

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Order and disorder

Writing and Research

Thinking about what to write in this week’s blog, I mull over the events at the Lessons with Persephone Retreat at the weekend. In the quiet of the Retreat, writing came easily. At the moment, this blog is going nowhere.

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When we were talking about if, and when, we had been published, I mentioned that I had only published in a couple of academic journals and one chapter in a book. This chapter was a shared enterprise with my PhD Supervisor, Prof. Jenny de Reuck, and a colleague who was also one of Jenny’s Post Grads, Sharifa Ahjum. The title of the chapter is “The Remembrance of Things Past”: Memory and Migration as Tropes in the Construction of Postgraduate Subjectivities. (You can see we didn’t resile from long and involved titles). When I reread it now, I am struck by the clarity of the writing and the sense of community we shared.

The book is Bartlett, A & Mercer G (Eds) (2001) Postgraduate Research Supervision: Transforming (R)Elations. New York. Peter Lang. pp 233-245.

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The paragraphs that I want to bring to this blog are my own.

In the beginning my doctoral research was to follow my own background – about the women who went to Africa, not from England. That was the intention. In the event, I didn’t follow that research – a common enough story for any PhD Candidate.

In this essay, I moved to writing about Jenny, Sharifa and I – our positionality and affective ethnicity. This is what I wrote: “Where do I stand to Jenny? Where do I stand to Sharifa? How are we so inclusive of each other? It is our coming out of Africa that is our ‘affective ethnicity’. Our form of ethnicity is beyond blood and colour. We draw our connection from our African origins, shared memories of experiences from a country we have left. ‘Affective ethnicity’; meta-ethnicity! Affective pedagogy!” I drew on the work of Moshe Shokeid (‘An Anthropologist’s Work between Moving Genres’ in Ethnos. Vol 57, 1 – 4, 233- 44, 1992.)

Following this I bemoan the fact that I have such difficulty in understanding some of the texts such as Foucault and Bhabha. Sharifa can read and understand these but I battle to make sense of such abstract concepts. Here, again, I quote myself, “Is it my age that stands between me and truly understanding these readings? Has my mind closed the doors—atrophied in the cells? Am I trapped in ignorance? Sometimes I bang my fists against these closed doors, “Open up! Open up!” I call, then, “Think Woman! Think!” Who is the teacher who can lead me to comprehension? Where is the insight that I deny myself? Self-proscribed knowledge, self-proscribed wisdom.

Finally, back to the beginning.

The first entry in my PhD journal reads thus:

Some of the things I want to include:

The spiritual aspect.

The sense of self.

The sense of place.

Identity as a fragile, contextual thing … I worry about my rigidity.

Can I sustain the energy?

The essence is this, researching and writing a doctoral thesis is a lonely thing to do. It is atonement for curiosity; an exercise in humility; self-inflicted isolation. Nevertheless, this is my search for an identity in an alien space. I was never brought up to be an academic. I was never brought up to be an Australian. I catch a glimpse of myself and ask “Who are you?” or maybe, “Who do you think you are?” And then I continue—because what else is there to do?

So, I did continue and eventually, a couple of days before I turned 60, I was notified that I was through. I was now a bona fide doctor.

Writing and Research

On being a …

Friday and I haven’t fulfilled my commitment to write up my blog this week. I made some notes through the week and had some ideas. Now, most of those ideas seem weak and not worth the effort.

I thought about when I was mugged. I decided that it brought back too many uncomfortable memories so I ditched that idea.

I thought of writing about being a dotty old woman (which I undoubtably am) but my stories of thinking of something new to do everyday – one of which included getting out of bed head first (and nearly knocking myself out) may be true but may not be credible. So, I ditched that idea.

I thought of writing about earning a doctorate. That is plain boring. Ditched.

Then I thought of an amazingly wonderful trek I did in Zimbabwe some 20 years ago. Yes! Bingo! That would work, but I’m not going to do that because I can’t find the photos. It was New Year 1996/1997 and I was in the Honde Valley with my brother and sister-in-law. I will write about this, but not this week.

Watch this space

 

On being a …

Once upon a time?

In Australia my dreams are of Africa.

[In Africa there is no need to dream? Or, no need to remember dreams? Is Australia the place of dreaming? Does Australia cease to exist when I’m in Africa?]

Once upon a time I presented a paper at a conference in Wollongong, NSW. This was not the first conference I had spoken at but it was where, for the first time, I was admired for my writing. The paper, Christmas at the Big House,  was subtitled ‘intersecting the insider and outsider roles in the fieldwork process.’ Why anthropology and ethnography papers have such long and convoluted titles is a mystery. Nevertheless, at that stage of my life, that is what I did. I even quoted Foucault in the introduction.

I returned ‘home’ to Zimbabwe in 1996 to research for Honours, so being both the insider and the outsider were conflicting roles. The Christmas mentioned in the title was a celebration of the reunion of my siblings. I was the only one without my immediate family at the party. It was held at the Big House.

The Big House, on a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe, is where I was born and brought up. It is a big house, built around a lawned courtyard, colourful with bougainvillea and flowering vines. There are verandahs, arches, and many big rooms. The gardens are bright with poinsettias and jacaranda trees. Once upon a time the house seemed to be alive and strong. Now, when I visit in 1996, I find the termites have eaten away the parquet floors. The wild bees have swarmed in the chimneys and the ceiling space. Honey drips through the ceilings leaving honey puddles in the sun-room. The electric wiring, never dependable, is completely unreliable, not helped by the intermittent blackouts and power outages.

For many of the past decades the house had not been permanently occupied. Because it is isolated, and usually empty, the night-watchman had taken the opportunity  to remove much of the furniture. In the more recent past, since the family left Zimbabwe, the Big House is now home to three or four Zimbabwean families. I think to myself, “at least it is being lived in.”

I quote, verbatim, from the essay

My knowledge of the family is sensitive. I am fluent in the language. The cultural world of this family is familiar to me as insider (how easily I slipped back into that identity) alien to me as outsider (how difficult to be part of the scheming and plotting). Intersecting the roles of insider/outsider allows me to acknowledge my limits – and that my analysis is imperfect and it is incomplete

I have to be honest, this was not the best Christmas I’ve ever had! However, when the time came to say goodbye, everyone was very emotional. There was much kissing and hugging. I left with my brother and his family because I am staying out on their farm now, and going to Aberfoyle (on the Mozambique border) with them for New Year.

During question time after I presented the paper, which discusses the feelings of identity, belonging, remembering, and misunderstanding, one of the audience paid me the supreme compliment of likening my writing to that of Michael Ondaatje.

 

 

 

 

 

Once upon a time?

Focus versus Lackadaisical

Focus

The genesis for this blog entry comes from Facebook where a friend published this meme:

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So, I did that and found the following on page 117 of Writing Begins with the Breath by Laraine Herring. At first, I was wondering how this was going to ‘be my life’ in 2017. Read on …

 

“I have even picked her up and carried her away from the window, but her gaze never leaves the bird, and as soon as I release her, she’s back in the window, focused, taunting the object of her intention.”

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According to Laraine Herring, it is becoming more and more difficult for us to “… cultivate the mental discipline necessary to deepen our lives”. Having made the commitment to write in this blog once a week, I’m finding the truth in her words. She says we have to make a conscious effort to withdraw from the constant assault on our senses. The mind needs to be trained to focus. It is too easy for me to be lackadaisical, filling my day with inconsequential activities (Facebook, I’m looking at you) and generally lacking vitality and purpose. I find it too easy to blame the weather – it’s too hot, too windy, too cold and so forth. My latest excuse for not swimming at the beach is that there is too much weed and the ocean is too choppy and too murky. Actually there is a lot of weed, there are mountains of weed and it is not pleasant to step through it and then stub my toe on a rock.

However, morning asana practice is not not negotiable and neither is the gym, two or three days a week; yoga class on Thursday evenings is a priority. It seems that sitting down to write something brings out the lackadaisical in me. Part of the commitment I made at the Writing and Yoga Retreat at New Norcia last year was to begin and complete a short story. I’m sort of planning that now but … there’s always a but … when I start writing something it just seems so banal, so mundane.

Lackadaisical

/ˌlækəˈdeɪzɪkəl/
adjective

1.

lacking vitality and purpose
2.

lazy or idle, esp in a dreamy way
Derived Forms
lackadaisically, adverb
lackadaisicalness, noun
Word Origin

lackadaisical. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/lackadaisical

I find it so much easier to be lackadaisical and loll around dreaming and reading. Sometimes, a burst of energy and I water the garden.
Focus versus Lackadaisical

Bees and me

Looking back at life on the farm, I am struck by how little I remember. What I do remember is the house, known to most people as ‘The Big House’. I had my own special room in the Big House, a bee-proof room. It seems my allergy to beestings started very early in the piece. African honeybees, (Apis mellifera scutellata) are extreme bees; they attack, and once one bee has stung the rest of the swarm come in like kamikazes. There is a particular scent that swarming and stinging bees have. I don’t know if everyone can smell it but I certainly can. According to my research, it is an alarm pheromone that smells “a bit like banana”. I think that is stretching it!

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I can remember the terrifying sound when the bees swarmed. If you saw a swarm coming in, it was like a thick cloud, like a taste of Armageddon. Should two or more swarms choose the same place to hive, a fierce battle would ensue. Anything or anybody who was in the area was in danger. I can remember one year all my mum’s hens were stung to death. Another year, my niece’s budgies, all gone. The farm dogs too.

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African honey bee. Photograph by W.H Kern, University of Florida

In the Big House only one room was more-or-less bee-proof. This was the blackboard room, which opened on to the interior courtyard on one side and into a passage on the other, so two doors. There was one gauzed window. As soon as we heard the sound of swarming bees I would be hustled into the blackboard room and all the doors and windows closed. If my younger sister was at home, she came in too. While we were confined, would draw on the blackboard with coloured chalks or play dress-ups in mum’s silk wedding gown and dad’s black graduation gown. If a stray bee managed to find it’s way into the room it was squashed, and that’s where you could smell the bee smell. This was probably not a good idea as the smell enraged other bees, which might try and get in. It is important to know how to remove a beesting without pressing the poison sac. Scraping it off with a sharp knife is the best solution and then apply bicarb of soda. Trust me, I know.

After the all clear and most of the random bees had been cleared we would be released. The bees would swarm in the chimneys and in the ceiling space. As time went on, the bees that swarmed in the ceiling space above the sun-room made plenty of honey. The honey would drip through the ceiling and make a honey puddle on the concrete floor.

I’m sad that I’m allergic to beestings because bees are one of my favourite insects. Having to carry an Epipen® is a pain in the bum. Sometimes I think it is a waste of time. I don’t have a clue how to use it and it sits in a drawer in its original wrapping. I know what anaphylaxis feels like because beestings are not my only allergy. I’ve come round from anaphylaxis with needles stuck into me after taking antimalarial tablets and any medication with sulphates.

This blog started life as part of a writing marathon at New Norcia. It was the 20minute entry. My thanks to Liana Christensen and the members in the group for their encouragement and motivation.

Bees and me

A Non-Writer, Writing

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Through all the years that I believed I was a writer, I struggled to put words on paper. In my more senior years it is apparent that I am not a writer. I am a tiny potato and I realise that I cannot ‘do the thing’. I do not have the determination or the drive a writer needs. Small bloggy pieces are about my limit.

Many years ago, I believed I was an artist but it turns out that was misguided thinking, too. There are many things I can do but drawing, painting and writing are not among them. I have a minor talent but it is not enough. The many nudes I drew and painted at Art School were destroyed (burnt) by an over-zealous family member for reasons I’ve never fathomed. I am easily disillusioned, defeated even, and take such physical criticism to mean that my work is worthless. I’m very good at giving up – cease making an effort; admitting defeat!

What I would like to be able to do is to sing in tune.

A Non-Writer, Writing